Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anti-refugee protest dogged by xenophobia

Anti-refugee protest dogged by xenophobia

A protester holds up fake dollar bills in protest against the agreement to send refugees to Cambodia
A protester holds up fake dollar bills in protest against the agreement to send refugees to Cambodia. Hong Menea

Anti-refugee protest dogged by xenophobia

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through central Phnom Penh yesterday morning calling for a controversial refugee resettlement deal between Australia and Cambodia to be scrapped.

While the protesters echoed human rights concerns that have been repeatedly made about the scheme, an undercurrent of xenophobia was also present.

After calling on the US Embassy, the Council of Ministers, the EU delegation and the National Assembly bearing petitions, the diverse group of monks, students, land rights activists and NGO workers eventually set up camp in front of the Australian Embassy.

Impassioned speeches continued there well into the afternoon.

Protest organiser Mao Pises, head of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students, which counts 2,000 members, said that in addition to concerns about the refugees’ welfare, young people feared that they would take jobs.

“There are many Cambodian youth who graduate and they cannot find a job. They have to migrate to work in Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea … So too many thousands of people migrate to find work outside, so how can they accommodate those refugees and find work for them?” he said.

“We feel that when [the refugees] come to Cambodia they will just compete and get the jobs which are very rare for Cambodian people already.”

A 31-year-old who said his name was “Tommy Angkor” ran shirtless around the protest clutching fake $100 bills representing the $35 million in extra aid that Australia is paying Cambodia as part of the arrangement. “No refugees” was scrawled on his back in red ink.

He also clutched a sign at one point that said “Cambodians are not aborigines”, but did not explain what he meant by this when asked by reporters.

“We don’t know who they are. They could be terrorists, they could cause many crimes, even if there are not many of them,” he said of the refugees.

The protest was supported by some refugee rights groups in Australia, which co-signed a statement “in solidarity with Cambodian civil society organisations”.

Their backing was evident in some of the signs carried by Cambodian marchers.

“Cambodia is not Terra Nullius,” one sign said, referencing a legal term meaning “land that belongs to no-one” that was used during European settlement in Australia.

The two women holding it gave blank stares when asked who wrote it.

Cambodian officials will soon depart to Nauru to enlist refugees who want to take part in the “voluntary” scheme. The government has indicated it will take far less than the 1,000 refugees initially expected of the deal, but many on Nauru have said they will not choose to come here.

The Ministry of Interior could not be reached yesterday and the Australian Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

MOST VIEWED

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Crumbling prices, rent ruffle condo segment

    The prolonged decline in international arrivals to Cambodia intensified by renewed Covid-19 fears has driven down condominium sales prices and rental rates in Phnom Penh, a research report said. CBRE Cambodia, the local affiliate of US commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Nod given for school exams

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport announced that State-run higher educational institutions can hold examinations to end the academic year, while private schools can organise grade 9 and grade 12 examinations at their premises for two days. However, private institutions have to take measures to prevent

  • Kingdom’s exports to US mushroom 25.94% in first five months to $2.4B

    Though Cambodia’s exports to other countries have been stalled amid the evolving Covid-19 environment, the Kingdom’s shipments to the US were worth 25.94 per cent more in the first five months of this year than they were in the year-ago period. Bilateral trade between

  • Oz lauds Kingdom’s passage of money laundering laws

    In a press release published by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday, the country applauded Cambodia’s stance on transnational crimes as well as its promulgation of an anti-money laundering law and a law on combating proliferation financing. The praise came after King

  • Lotus face masks designed to cover globe

    A French designer in Cambodia has produced ecological face masks from lotus fibre to supply local and international markets with an eye on preserving ancestral techniques and supporting Cambodian women in rural communities. During a trip to Asia, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, was